Written by Stacy K, Contributing Writer
What is water kefir?
Water kefir is a lacto-fermented beverage made with water kefir grains and sugar water. It is easy (and relatively quick) to make, and provides an abundance of probiotics to improve digestive health.
Water kefir grains are not grains at all, but rather "bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship" (as noted by Julie of Cultures for Health.) The term grains really just describes their appearance.
Because the grains feed on sugar, the resulting beverage is not overly sweet.
Water kefir is often bubbly and has a reputation for being a natural alternative to soda pop.
Is water kefir different from dairy kefir?
Yes. Water kefir grains and dairy kefir grains are two different things. Dairy kefir grains are whitish in appearance and generally clump together, they feed on lactose and grow well in milk.
Water kefir grains do not clump together, and are clear and translucent. They often take on the color of the beverage or type of sugar used in the culturing process. For example, my kefir grains have a browinsh tint due to the fact that I use sucanat in my sugar water mix.
It is possible to convert dairy kefir grains to make water kefir, but it is my understanding that they will not last as long as true water kefir grains, which will multiply indefinitely.
Where do I find water kefir grains?
If you have a friend who makes water kefir on a regular basis, chances are they will have extra grains at some point. Mine were almost doubling with each batch!
There are a number of places online to purchase water kefir grains. I bought mine from Cultures for Health and have been extremely happy with them (like I said, they were doubling with each batch. They are very healthy grains)! The Kefir Lady sells both fresh and dried kefir grains (I have not purchased from her myself as yet).
While it is possible to buy fresh grains, my preference is to get dehydrated ones (unless I were to get them from a local friend). The reason for this is that life is often hectic and fresh grains need to be dealt with immediately, while dried ones can wait until you are ready. It would be disappointing to spend money on grains only to lose them due to unforeseen circumstances surrounding their arrival in the mail!
How to rehydrate water kefir grains
When purchasing dehydrated kefir grains, they will look like this:
Most grains come with instructions for rehydration, which generally involves soaking the grains in a sugar water mixture for a few days. The grains I purchased from Cultures for Health required 3 to 4 days of soaking.
To make the sugar water mixture for rehydrating dissolve 4 to 6 tablespoons of sugar in 4 cups of water and let cool to room temperature. Pour into a glass jar and add the dehydrated grains. Cover with a tea towel or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. Let sit until grains are plump (no longer than 5 days).
Once the grains are rehydrated, they should look like this (if you use white sugar they will have a lighter color):
During the rehydration process, 2 tablespoons of dried grains plumps up to approximately 1/3 cup!
Once this process is complete you are ready to make water kefir!
How to make water kefir
Making water kefir is not an exact science.
The general idea is to dissolve sugar in water and allow the grains to ferment in this mixture for one to three days. Once fermented, remove grains and drink kefir as is, or add flavoring (in the form of fruit of juice) and allow to ferment for another day. It is during this second ferment that kefir often becomes very bubbly (but not always).
The amount of sugar, type of sugar, length of fermentation, and type of flavoring can all vary.
Here is a step-by-step of how I usually prepare water kefir:
:: In a pot, on the stove top, dissolve 1/3 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water*. Allow to cool a little then add 3 cups of water. Pour this mixture into a 1/2 gallon mason jar and add another 1 1/2 to cups of water (so the jar is filled close to the shoulder or 6 cup mark).
:: If the water is room temperature, add 1/3 cup of water kefir grains.
(Some people choose to contain the grains is a muslin tea bag, which makes removing them from the jar easy. However, I found the grains did much better when allowed to float freely.)
:: Add 4 drops of liquid minerals.
(This step is optional, but highly recommended. Water kefir grains thrive on minerals and I notice a difference when I don't add them.)
:: Cover with a tea towel or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.
:: Leave in a warm place to culture for 24 to 72 hours. The longer you leave it, the less sweet it will be (the grains eat the sugar!).
:: Taste the water kefir each day to see if the it has reached your desired level of sweetness. Once it has, strain out the grains by placing a plastic strainer over another mason jar and pouring the kefir through it:
Be sure to use a plastic strainer as metal is reactive and not recommended for use with kefir grains.
Store the grains in a sugar water mix in the fridge or use them to begin a new batch of water kefir.
Once the grains have been removed, I like to do a second fermentation.
The second fermentation is a great time to add fruit (fresh or dried) or fruit juice for extra flavor. I often add a cup or so of grape or cranberry juice. (I'll give some other options below.)
Instead of using a towel or coffee filter to cover the top, place plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar and then the lid. This will keep out the air and allow bubbles to form.
Leave the water kefir covered for another 24 to 72 hours. Then strain out any fruit pieces and pour into a clean container or bottle.
Store in the fridge.
I have used the same basic method to make a larger amount of water kefir. In fact, I use the same amount of kefir grains, 1/3 cup, but dissolve 3/4 cup of sugar in 2 cups of water, then pour into a gallon size jar and fill to the shoulder with water. (I learned this from a post at GNOWFGLINS.)
It is possible to place the kefir grains directly in juice or sugar water containing dried or fresh fruit. If you have extra grains, then I would suggest experimenting with these methods, but when just starting out I highly recommend keeping the grains in sugar water only. This way they will not be compromised before you have any extra stored away.
To make fruit juice water kefir: Place 3 Tablespoons of kefir grains in 1 to 2 quarts of juice (preferably organic). Cover as directed for the first fermentation and allow to sit for 24 to 48 hours. Strain and enjoy!
Cream soda: Add 3 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract to 2 quarts of water kefir after straining. Increase (or decrease) amount of vanilla to your taste.
Add raisins, dried figs, or whatever takes your fancy!
How to store kefir grains
If you need to take a break from making water kefir, the grains may be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks in a sugar water mixture. Dissolve a 1/2 tablespoon of sugar in a 1/2 cup of water. Cool. Add grains and sugar water to a clean, airtight container. Keep refrigerated.
What type of sugar should I use?
I use sucanat because it is less processed than other sugars and still contains minerals, which the kefir grains love! If the sucanat flavor is too strong for your taste, try using organic sugar, or half organic sugar and half sucanat.
*A note about water
Since kefir grains love minerals, it is important to use water with a high mineral content. Spring or well water are the best options.
If it is necessary to use tap water, remove the chlorine by boiling the it first.